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Infancy of Louis XIII

Infancy of Louis XIII

The infancy of Louis XIII of France is well documented, primarily in the detailed journal that his physician Jean Héroard kept from the dauphin's birth on September 27, 1601, until 1628. The royal infant did not grow up in daily contact with his parents, Henry IV and Marie de' Medici. Louis lived at Château Saint-Germain outside Paris, where he and the legitimate and bastard children of the king had their own little court. The main character in the upbringing of the infant was his governess, Françoise de Longuejoue, baroness of Montglat, whom the dauphin designated "Maman Ga."

Louis was a vigorous and temperamental child with a capacity for rapid learning. From infancy he was able to act in accordance with the courtois code of courtesy. At sixteen months old the dauphin began to hold his own lever ritual when rising in the morning, and within a short time the child also received princes, ambassadors, and noblemen in audience, performing the required gestures and phrases with proper politeness. The infant was fond of music and dance. He played the lute and the fiddle, among other instruments, and he danced all sorts of dances. To strengthen his morals he was taught from the influential collection of etiquette and morality Les Quatrains, by Guy du Faur, seigneur de Pibrac. When the dauphin lost his temper he was punished, mostly whipped. The dauphin's demonstrative playing with his genitals was much laughed about at the court at Château Saint-Germain and courtiers did not hesitate to joke about sexual matters when Louis was present.

When Louis was about seven years old he was drawn into a more adult and masculine sphere. In June 1608 he shed his child's skirt and began to wear the adult male costume, and in January of the following year he moved to the Louvre palace in Paris. A governor, Marquis Gilles Souvré, replaced "Maman Ga." Louis's intellectual education was now more systematic than before, and he was taught the noble arts of riding, shooting, and hunting. Simultaneously the indiscreet sex jokes ceased. When Henry IV was murdered on May 14, 1610, Louis, then eight years old, became king of France with his mother Queen Marie as guardian regent.

The American historian Elizabeth Wirth Marvick has seen Louis's early life experience as disastrous for his personal development: it left him, so she has claimed, at the Freudian anal stage. Taking the opposite point of view, Madeleine Foisil, the editor of Héroard's journal, sees Louis's early childhood as a happy experience in a supportive environment. Devoted letters written by the adult king to "Maman Ga" tend to support the latter interpretation. Heroard's journal has been used as a major source by Philippe AriÈs to support his argument that the idea of childhood is a modern-day novelty. The infancy of Louis XIII shows how noble infants in the early seventeenth century took part in adults' occupations and how sexual topics were not taboo for children.

See also: Aristocratic Education in Europe; Early Modern Europe; Masturbation; Sexuality; Theories of Childhood.


Ariès, Philippe. 1962. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Trans. Robert Baldick. New York: Knopf.

Foisil, Madeleine, ed. 1989. Journal de Jean Héroard, III. Paris: Fayard.

Marvick, Elizabeth Wirth. 1986. Louis XIII: The Making of a King. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Thomas Lyngby

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